‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ moves to a different dance (review)

“I’ve been expecting you!”

Brace yourselves, here comes another Nutcracker movie!

Yes, my mind was -almost- reeling at the sheer thought of another movie following the classic story of girl-meets-nutcracker.
Okay, actually girl meets weird godfather, gets nutcracker, falls into a rodent induced fever dream, plays princess, and wakes to find that she’s back to where she started. Nothing changes; it’s all just the same in the world of fantasy.

But that’s not what Disney wanted to give audiences with this incarnation, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms!

All Clara (Mackenzie Foy) wants is a key – a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key—which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.

“Your mother was the cleverest inventor I ever knew.”

Aesthetically speaking, the film is gorgeous! With its sweeping visuals, breathtaking scenery and ornate detailed costuming, this film is lovingly adorned throughout. From the incredible set designs of intricate and complex mechanisms to the breathtaking fantastical landscapes of the four realms, the film holds a sense of honor and homage to the story from whence it came. Directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston both carry strong and creative eyes for the film, as already stated in their previous films, showcasing the full extent of their artistic endeavors. Having both feet in modern storytelling while having a full grip of tradition and legacy have a very prominent place in the visuals of this film.

The cast in the film is not without its standouts. With Mackenzie Foy as the lead heroine, Clara, the film also stars Keira Knightley, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Misty Copeland, Helen Mirren, and Morgan Freeman. Unfortunately, they are not played to their strengths, as each character is played for their silliness, muting any solid performances to be had by the performers. Helen Mirren is minimized to a boogie-man character. Richard E. Grant is barely recognizable in his role, as his character is covered in “icicles,” rendering him practically invisible in the film.

Morgan Freeman, a man who needs no introduction, only appears in the introduction of the film, and a minute or two at the end. He shares the same amount of screen time as Jeff Goldblum had in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which surmised to a huge disappointment for that film. Mackenzie Foy does a decent job in the film, but not well enough to carry the whole project, as she struggles to maintain each scene she’s in. Even the notable Keira Knightley’s role is relegated to a mere Marilyn Monroe-impersonation, making it difficult to keep me engaged.

“At your service, Princess Clara.”

Sadly, the stab at bringing a well-worn story into these modern times isn’t without its hits and misses. Additions to the original story expound on the realms that we only saw briefly in the original ballet, giving viewers an opportunity to widen their horizons. But unfortunately it seems to lack some of the distinct charms that were poignant to each individual dance (no dance of the sugar plum fairy for you!).

The music ebbs and flows, building in the original selections of Tschovsky’s masterpiece with pieces by James Newton Howard, all brilliantly played by the Philharmonic Orchestra in London, and world-renown pianist Lang Lang. But this may confuse some moviegoers when they hear the strains of a familiar piece, only to have it pulled away within the first few bars. Whimsical characters litter every scene- thank you, adorable CGI mice, a-la the live-action Cinderella. But some go to the point of sheer creepery (not the mice, honest.)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is not completely without its pros, however. The film, as previously mentioned, holds strongly to honoring the tradition of this long-told tale. One of those traditions is ballet and the dances. Although it doesn’t use it profusely, dance is a beautiful form of storytelling within the film. With the incredible talents of ballerina Misty Copeland, the film has an outstanding dance sequence that tells the origin of the four realms. Her gracefulness and beauty in boldly translated, giving viewers a touch of what made this timeless classic so timeless.

“The future of the realms lies with you.”

All in all, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms shares its love for the original ballet in a way that only Disney does. It creates a beautiful tale that carries within it a love letter to the original, yet holds a strong footing in the modern world. Unfortunately, this footing gives the film an unsteady foundation and falters to wobbly storytelling and performances. The film, although beautiful and intriguing in its aesthetics, fumbles to carry the journey of little miss Clara and her Soldier to the very end of the film.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a good film to begin introducing young children to a concise and altered version of the story, but sadly all it is delivering to moviegoers is just that: a brief and altered version. Let’s hope that this doesn’t mark the decline of quality in Disney’s live-action market, as we have several more films on their way, and they hold a bit more weight for the famed House of Mouse.

Rating: 2/5 Atoms

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